Paradise Lost?

Paradise for a change was missing from the customary reference to Kashmir in most of the prime ministerial references on the nation‘s Independence Day on this 74th birthday of the nation. Mr. Modi having made the predictable allusion to Paradise in an earlier Independence Day speech from Red Fort was more mindful of this fact that this time over Kashmir would have a chief minister, legislators et. al.

The development programmes he said were going on apace, women and Dalits having benefited the most. To go by Mr. Modi’s cryptic reference, there was a hint that the union territory status may be restored as a state. Ladakh is a different kettle of fish and would continue to receive appropriate attention. So far so good, but how about the ground reality in the valley wrecked by continuing violence, the substantial security force presence and the on-again-off-again pace of life.

Therein lies the issue… how does one proceed to have elections to a future assembly as suggested in Prime Minister‘s speech? Who would be the contenders? What will allow the existing political parties be enabled to take the field though, that is the million-dollar question. Given the state of pessimism that has gripped the usual contenders, the National Conference, the PDP, the Congress and a few others. Additionally, there are scores of party leaders either in jails or under house arrest for over a year now against whom there are no charges, who are deemed as a political nuisance, nonetheless.

Other additional factors going against the so-called mainstream parties is perhaps not seen as having any role in the resolution of the Kashmir issue. And men like the Abdullahs for instance are doing nobody any favors by appearing to have sidelined themselves. That even after granting that some of their party leadership is still under detention, Mehbooba Mufti‘s house arrest under the Public Safety Act which goes beyond the year and the present lot of betrayed leaders, they do not seem to be willing to take up the challenge of elections. There also comes to mind the problem with most mainstream parties whose sole preoccupation while in power has been the business of further power.

It is unlikely they would challenge New Delhi on the basics of Kashmir accession to the Indian union. Congress, of all the state parties would on paper seem to be capable of rising to the challenge but won’t do, considering its current internal turmoil. However, the fact remains that the mainstream parties by their very nature can’t be part of any solution. We forget that the National Conference is committed to autonomy, and the PDP to self-rule which means that they have removed themselves from any solution of the so-called Kashmir problem. The people never saw them as mainstream organizations being capable of resolving the Kashmir issue. The parties only wanted power. The militants slowly came to be accepted. And yet hardened souls caught in the grip of the mainstream and the hired hands or militants, may seem to accept a middle path. They would attend election rallies and attend militant funerals. One was born of personal need and in the understanding of political listening if you well. This was a coexistence of sorts.

The Prime Minister in his Independence Day speech hinted at the revival of the process in the context of the delimitation of constituencies said to be in progress under judicial supervision; may lead to the restoration of the assembly and possibly, hopefully, to the union territory rejoining its statehood. Mr. Modi, though, was not particularly stressful of that. The boringly repetitive reference to Kashmir as paradise was missing from Mr. Modi‘s Independence Day. Instead were references to the union territories and to Vikas at the grassroots in the valley. As was the message that the union territory would get a chief minister and legislator in due course.

He didn’t specify any time frame except saying that it was subject to the finalization of the delimitation report. Not a word mentioned about the process of recording state subject rights to non-state residents whose numbers are reportedly growing rapidly in Jammu and elsewhere. And mind you, it sure fits the notion that alternative laws are informed already.